A son describes his mother as “a monster” to a nursing home staff member, much to her surprise. This not entirely uncommon occurrence was described in a recent New York Times article broaching the delicate — albeit taboo or often unmentioned — subject of abusive seniors.
We covered it here on our blog as well, in Abusive Elders: Article Highlights Special Challenges for Caregivers. My piece focused on the language we so often use when speaking of caregiving-related things: “caring for loved ones,” “making a decision about a loved one,” or “helping a loved one transition to assisted living.” I called readers (and even reminded myself) that we should exercise greater sensitivity to the fact that not all caregivers are willing or joyfully obliging, and sometimes for a very good reason.
Besides several retweets and shares of the post via social media, we received this thoughtful comment from Mary, a reader:
“Great article Michelle. As someone who works in senior housing placements and referrals, this is something that we come across (sadly) on a fairly regular basis. Just because someone is elderly does not mean they are angelic and your article is honestly the first I’ve seen to portray that side of aging.
P.S. I’m sure caregivers would appreciate a follow-up post or article on coping strategies, etc.”
I’m taking her up on the suggestion.
Though I can’t relate as a caregiver who had to make arrangements for someone I wouldn’t describe as a “loved one,” I observed some of these strained relationships during the years I worked in assisted living. It was never easy to stay neutral, as there was often quite a disconnect between the abusive person that the caregiver knew and the person who was now a compliant, quiet and somewhat withdrawn resident. I never wanted to doubt the family members’ accounts of their dark history with the individual, but it was sad to think of them that way, sad to think of the awkward position the caregivers, adult children and other relatives now found themselves in. We had to tread lightly and keep our opinions out of it. The relationships and communications became especially thorny when family members were divided in their opinions of the person and his/her record of abuse.
How to cope with being the default or designated caregiver for a parent or relative who was/is not the kind of person you feel obligated to care for? Consider these strategies:
1. Don’t feel guilty about making care arrangements elsewhere. If you cannot emotionally or physically handle the task of caring for the individual who caused you so much pain, don’t do it. Find a nursing home, home care provider, or appropriate care setting where the needs of your parent or relative can be met by professionals who don’t have a painful history with that person.
2. Leave the past behind. It’s easier said than done, but once you have made a decision (either to choose outside care or care for this person in his/her home or yours), stick to the present when caring, visiting, calling, or checking in. Forgive and forget to the best of your ability. If the person is still abusive, or if you’re still struggling with the past, seek help (via crisis hotlines/centers, support groups, friends, therapists, etc.). Don’t try to deal with it on your own.
3. Don’t seek revenge. The nursing home staff or home care provider doesn’t have to know every single detail of your family history. Be honest, but give them the basics so as not to deter them from providing quality care. Also, in choosing a care setting or caregiver, don’t intentionally pick the worst place or provider you can find, or tell the staff to treat them horribly.
You may also want to read these helpful articles by veteran caregiver, Carol Bradley Bursack (of MindingOurElders.com):
- Caring for a Parent Who Didn’t Care for You
- Elders Who Abuse the Relatives Who Are Taking Care of Them
- Q&A: How do you deal with an abusive parent?
- Your parents and caregiving: what if they abused you as a child?
Your turn: What tips/strategies would you add to the list? If you have found yourself in this situation, please share what worked for you.